In this remarkable documentary, filmmaker Steven James depicts the lives of two African-American boys growing up in inner-city Chicago involved with the lifestyle, success, and hardships surrounding the ultimate out of basketball. As Arthur Agee and William Gates begin to accumulate success and tribulation as they follow their ultimate dreams of playing in the NBA, Director James depicts the lives of his subjects as containing agency- personal choices that change their futures, as well as the mercy they feel towards others and outside forces.
One of the key examples of this idea of “free agency” the characters appear to have in the beginning, is the ability to go to the critically-acclaimed basketball program at St. Joseph’s High school, due to the characters’ own, developed talents. As William Gates continues to grow and improve throughout the film, the viewer gets a sense that he possess more agency, with options such as scholarships and sponsorship, tutoring for the ACT provided by the school, and even a summer job position.
However, as we continue to follow the lives of the two rising-stars, the viewers observe the decreasing agency of Arthur as his improvement and skills do not match the previously held expectations of coach Pingatore. Faced with tuition increases in the mid-semester of his freshman year, Arthur’s family cannot meet the new added expenses and he is forced to leave. While the school appears to just be following the law, the viewers observe the same issue with William resolved, due to added financial aid from a personal sponsor. In this specific example, one can see how William’s desired talents allow him more options, yet Arthur’s inability to meet such high expectations in a constantly competitive sport, creates outside control over his life and future.
Following this single event that takes place towards the beginning of the documentary, allows for one to see the butterfly effect throughout its entirety. The fact that by not meeting rigorous and somewhat grueling basketball expectations, the boys are constantly at the mercy of the game and how other more powerful people control them. James uses this depiction of agency, in my opinion, in order to shed some light on the limiting factors of the boys’ choices. Anything, or outside source that affects their value as a commodity, decreases their personal control, which would mean that their overall control is very limited even to begin with. In the words of William Gates, ” People always say to me, ‘when you get to the NBA, don’t forget about me.’ Well, I should’ve said back, ‘if I don’t make it to the NBA, don’t you forget about me.'” (quotes.net)